Saturday, October 31, 2009

Welcome To Bradford County, PA

Our family summer home in beautiful French Azilum, Bradford County
(Photo by C. Manuel)

If you were designing a brochure to entice tourists to visit Bradford County, PA, where tourism brings in nearly $2.5 billion to the region annually, it might go something like this.......

Welcome to Bradford County, "where you’ll find everything from fresh maple syrup and honey, to enthralling modern artwork. The hospitality services here are second to none, whether you want a bed and breakfast, a hotel (UPDATE: There are no rooms available right now because gas drillers occupy ALL of them), or a campground. The artisans found here follow traditional styles with new twists. Chain saw carvings, whittlers, stonewall builders, and quilters are just a few of these amazing artists that reside and work in Bradford County.

Bradford County is an agrarian society, for the most part. Farms cover a vast expanse of the county. Many Farmers in the area raise grass fed livestock, sell organic fruits and vegetables, and process dairy products organically. These products can be found on location, in local stores, and at the local farmers markets.

Bradford County is filled with local landmarks and is great for sight seeing. Set in the Appalachian Mountains' there are still traces of our history everywhere. Arrowheads found in fields give hints of Native American movements and settlements in the area. Old mines and dilapidated mining towns serve as markers and historic evidence of how mining life truly was. French Azilum Historic Site shows a never completed French settlement along the river,; a town of about forty families at its peak, that was planned to hold four hundred. Take a trip to Azilum to see the beautiful landscape, get a tour of a second generation French home, check out the archeological dig being done by a Cornell professor, or just to have lunch and see the eagle's nest. Bradford County’s history-rich background makes it a great place to spend an afternoon, a day, a week, or a lifetime." [taken from this website]

It sounds like a piece of heaven, and it is- for how long remains a big question. Now the future of tourism, fishing, hunting, camping, and just plain living in Bradford County, PA, is threatened by the corporate craving for the natural gas that lies beneath in the Marcellus Shale formation. According to a July report, there are currently eleven gas companies operating in the county, all poised to make billions of dollars while poisoning the earth and air we all require for survival. Some residents are worried about the negative effects of gas drilling: erosion and sediment and the disposal of millions of gallons of tainted (toxic!) water produced in the course of gas extraction, some of which comes back to the surface while much of it remains underground permanently. A Pennsylvania attorney for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Matt Royer, said

We're really concerned about getting protections in place here. There are serious risks to our water from the drilling- from stormwater runoff and erosion that occurs during the construction phase, and from the treatment of wastewater after the drilling phase.
The problem, as CBF Water Quality Scientist Harry Campbell explains it, is that very few treatment plants are capable of removing the salt and chemicals in the frac water, many of which are proprietary and therefore unknown except to the drilling companies. Campbell said
One of the main concerns is the high salinity of the water. If frac water gets discharged into streams in this concentrated form, it will affect aquatic life. Also,we don't have water-quality criteria for the many chemicals used in frac water, so there's no way to know if the water's being adequately treated.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is in the middle since it is charged with promoting income for the state while at the same time protecting the environment and public health. With state funds being slashed 25% in the 2010 state budget, it is doubtful that the money will be available to hire more inspectors to do the work of monitoring compliance with environmental regulations. Adding to the problem is the fact that the Energy Act of 2005 exempts the natural gas industry from most environmental regulations, including the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act. To make matters worse, private water wells, which are the norm in much of Bradford County, are not protected by the federal regulations anyway. Industry is vehemently opposed to regulations and have a well-funded robust lobbying strategy to insure the defeat of any legislation that might thwart their pillaging of the land.

Pristine lakes and forests abound in northeastern PA, and the Chesapeake Bay watershed extends over a large part of the region, causing many people as far south as Virginia to worry about the future of the bay and the Susquehanna River which flows into it. In the process of preparing a drill pad, trees are felled, destroying countless acres of forest and animal habitat. The pipelines needed to get the gas from pad to market also swallow up vast stretches of the landscape which never return to their original beauty or ecology. Access roads carve up even more land and are paved with gravel mined from local hills and mountains. Mike Lovegreen, District Manager of the Bradford County Conservation District said,
There are two or three hundred wells in the county already, and a lot of infrastructure going up right now. We'll see frenzied activity this year.
While industry has their money-grabbing, pollution-producing frenzy, citizens of the county will undoubtedly find themselves in their own frenzy, trying to protect themselves and their familes and their property, a daunting task at best, since this is a case of Big Gas versus citizens with little financial means to fight. Ironically, some land owners are eager for the drilling to begin because they believe they will get a lot of money from the minerals beneath them. Some will (those with large land holdings); most won't in all likelihood. Especially vulnerable are those who own no land at all. These residents have nothing to say about what happens where they live. However, they must endure the effects of environmental pollution and negative health effects from water, air, and soil.

Another concerned group is the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited. Deb Nardone, a Cold Water Resource Specialist who works with the group, commented on the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and DEP and the job these groups have done in trying to regulate, for example, the withdrawal of water from area waterways. She reports that they have done "a pretty good job" of oversight." However she expressed her concern about the impacts of drilling on water and wilderness areas.
...the new roads built to get to the well pads, the stream crossings, the pipelines, the truck traffic, the actual disposal of the wastewater- everything has an impact downstream. We're talking about [protecting] true wilderness areas, pritine streams where our members hunt and fish.
Read the article about PA (North Branch Susquehanna: As Gas Wells Proliferate, Water Worries Grow) in the latest issue of CBF Save the Bay here. You will have to scroll down to page 6 to find the article. The pictures are very educational, and you will find a map of the North Branch Susquehanna (page 8), showing the Marcellus Shale formation and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The author of the article is Carol Denny, editor of Save the Bay magazine and a native of Pennsylvania.


Anonymous said...

Was thinking about retiring in Bradford County. After reading this I guess not! Can Bradford county do nothing to fight the gas companies? Is PA out of its mind? Methane! not natural gas will be the new gas to be used in the future (an off the grid gas), meanwhile they will have destroyed their future tax revenues. What a shame!! Stupidity of mankind is astounding.

Anonymous said...

And what do you think we should do whit the water that comes from methane gas? That is ten time the harm and hazard!! The shame is in only getting 1/2 the info.